Why Does My Electrician Have to Leave to Go Shopping?

Why did the electrician have a look at our project and then leave to go shopping? Why doesn't s/he have the materials needed in the van? Why didn't s/he get the needed items on the way to my house? We get these questions a lot. And the answer is simple. Or is it?

by | Apr 30, 2020

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While electricians carry a lot of inventory in their vans, they really only carry basic electrical items. Yes, they will have a variety of wire, standard outlets and switches, boxes, cover plates, some conduit items, marettes, clamps, and maybe even some breakers. But if your project isn’t a simple repair or install, it’s very likely there are items needed that aren’t in the electricians van stock. There are hundreds of thousands of electrical inventory items, if not millions. The many brands of electrical panels require certain brands of breakers. And while some jobs sound simple to customers, most customers don’t really understand what is really required to complete their project, not being electricians and all.

Here’s an example from yesterday.

A customer called and says she has just moved into her new-to-her old house and there are only two receptacles in the kitchen. Two receptacles? That’s crazy. My 10 x 10 kitchen has seven counter receptacles. So you can see why she called to ask us to come by and add another receptacle. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, let’s see.

The electrician has not previously visited the customer’s home, so s/he does not know where the customer wants the outlet placed, how far away it is from a source of power (a circuit that can be added to), the route needed to get the power to that location, whether there is an attic or crawl space if there are any obstructions, whether the sink is located near enough to the desired location requiring a GFI receptacle or not, etc.

The electrician might go direct to this job if s/he thinks the items needed to do the job are in the van, but then, upon examination and discussion with the customer, discovers that the only route that can be taken to get power to the new receptacle is quite long. Back at the van, s/he see that there isn’t enough wire in the van to complete the project. Here’s why.

To get power to that new receptacle without ripping apart the customer’s backsplash, which is covered in a beautiful vintage tile, the electrician has to take power from one of the existing receptacles, fish it up through the wall into the attic, cross the attic 15 feet through the trusses, and then fish it down an exterior wall. A bit of drywall has to be cut near the ceiling to allow for the passage of the wire past the top plate, and then a bit more behind the fridge to allow a drill to get in to drill through the stud to get the wire into place.

Does this job still sound simple? And imagine this, it will take approximately 5 hours to do it. That’s right! Five hours to add one kitchen counter outlet.

Should the electrician have had enough wire before getting there? Maybe, but what you don’t know is that the previous job required a long length of the same wire. So, should the electrician go get more wire before going to the next job? The customer’s house is closer than the electrical supplier. So, to save time and be sure s/he gets exactly what’s needed for the project, the electrician decides to go to the customer’s house first with a plan to go shopping if it’s necessary.

And that is why your electrician looks at your project and leaves to go shopping.

Check out what’s inside an electrician’s van.

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